Learning to share the road requires learning the rules of the road.
Although the official rules of the road vary from province to province and state to state, there are many regulations in common. Obviously, I can’t list the specific rules for your area, so I’ve decided to focus on my own province of Ontario. Below is a summary of the most common bike regulations according to the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. (For a complete list, see Ontario Ministry of Transportation. Be aware, that all the regulations listed here carry $85 fines for non-compliance, except for: not having a proper lights ($20); not wearing a helmet if under 16 ($60); and for not stopping for “stopped school buses when the upper alternating red lights are flashing and the stop arm is out” ($400).
I have italicized a few things that you may not have been aware of. Sometimes, the local police force is not aware of these nuances either!
In general, cyclists must ride far enough out from the curb to maintain a straight line, clear of sewer grates, debris, potholes, and parked car doors. You may occupy any part of a lane when your safety warrants it. Never compromise your safety for the convenience of a motorist behind you. (If only we could get drivers to think of cyclists as they do slow-moving farm equipment, perhaps they would be more willing to slow down and wait for a clear opportunity to pass us!)
Cyclists are required to ride as close as practicable to the right curb of the roadway, except when:
- travelling at the normal speed of traffic
- avoiding hazardous conditions
- the roadway is too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to travel safely side-by-side
- riding alongside another cyclist in a manner that does not impede the normal movement of traffic
- preparing to make a left turn, passing another vehicle, or using a one-way street (in which case riding alongside the left curb is permitted).
Cyclists also have to:
- stop for red lights and stop signs and comply with all other signs
- ride in the designated direction on one-way streets
- before turning, look behind and signal the turn. The right arm can be used to signal a right turn or use the left with the elbow bent and hand up and vertical.
- yield or stop for pedestrians at crosswalks
- walk your bike when crossing at a crosswalk
- stop and identify correctly themselves when required by police for breaking traffic laws.
Although it seems like common sense, your bike is required to have at least one brake system on the rear wheel. “When you put on the brakes, you should be able to skid on dry, level pavement.” Every cyclist under 18 must wear an approved bicycle helmet. Parents or guardians shall not knowingly permit cyclists under 16 to ride without a helmet.
Your bike must also have:
- a white front light and a red rear light or reflector if you ride between 1/2 hour before sunset and 1/2 hour after sunrise. Also required: white reflective tape on the front forks and red reflective tape on rear forks
- a bell or horn in good working order
A few other rules:
- bicycles are prohibited on expressway / freeway highways such as the 400 series, the QEW, Ottawa Queensway and on roads where “No Bicycle” signs are posted
- passengers are not allowed on a bicycle designed for one person
- cyclists are not permitted to attach themselves to the outside of another vehicle or streetcar for the purpose of “hitching a ride.”
- if walking your bike on a highway where there are no sidewalks, you are considered a pedestrian and you should walk on the left-hand side of the road facing traffic. If it is not safe for you to cross the road to face traffic, you may walk your bike on the right-hand side of the road.
Remember: the only way to share the road is to share the learning. Please pass this on.